What a month and half its been for wildlife conservation! But it seems things are now starting to calm down giving us all some time to catch our breath, brush ourselves down and reflect on recent events. Since Cecil the Lion’s death the media have had a field day and long shall it last! The more publicity this story gets the larger the audiences conservation will be attracted. It’s a welcome step away from the economy and towards subjects that really matter. However, over the past month, an uncomfortable concern has been growing on how beneficial the media really is, especially in relation to its impacts. This time of calm is a good opportunity to revisit the case of Cecil, look back over the medias role and perhaps reinvigorate the hunting argument.
The media always seeks a reaction, the bigger the reaction the bigger the stories. When audiences really react and a story goes viral the media goes mad and the grenades really start rolling. Related stories started popping up everywhere, discussing how Cecil was killed, conversationalists views, what celebrates are saying, the list goes on… However, if the media wants to continue printing its papers and increase its audiences it is inevitable which side their grenades will be fired from and soon stories began to follow the same rhetoric.
The encouragement for a one-sided fight, looking at social media shares, is clearly seen in the popularity of these posts from the same news publisher; one supporting hunting and the other opposing it. Just in case readers were unsure which side the news publisher was on, they clearly stated their position, ‘shoot lions with cameras, not rifles: Our view’.
The general consensus was clear, trophy hunting is bad and hunters where horrible people. Logging on to Twitter or Facebook became a little samey as journalist after journalist jumped onto the same wagon expressing its own version of shock, anger and disgust. The witch hunt was on, crowds where poised given the scent and then released. In an ironic role reversal, an American dentist called Walter Palmer who is, in fact, an avid hunter soon becomes the prey. In retaliation and an attempt to put the angry mob of the scent the camouflaged dentist released a statement;
“I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity that I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion,”. Unfortunately for Walter, his past doesn’t help his case.
Cecil’s death could be a very poignant moment in conservation history as Jimmy Kimmel suggests, ‘something good can come out of this’. But as the mob grew my concerns grew with it. Could this actually do more harm than good? Could the media be creating overtly hyper sanctimonious beliefs leaving little space for the counter argument?
After writing a blog on the partnership between hunting and conservation in Namibia I know things aren’t as black and white as many have come to believe. I firmly believe if you hold a strong opinion it’s important to provide ballast to both sides of the story. I would really encourage people to look behind the news stories to formulate your own opinion and not to get pulled along by the media. There are alternative arguments as seen in Namibia and the link between trophy hunting and lion conservation. The recent negative homogeneity of hunting seems incorrect when each county in Africa is different with a variety of challenges. Perhaps a case by case approach be more appropriate?
The media is very leading and reinforcing in its arguments. Depictions of terrorist attacks in Kenya deeply impacted conservation efforts and the media craze for Ebola impacted the whole of Africa and this incident is in fact already damaging Zimbabwe’s much-needed tourism industry required as an alternative to hunting! Without tourism where will conservation turn to get the much-needed cash? It is sad but true, the tourism dollar standing on it own is not quite enough to sustain some conservation approaches. This is especially true today when poaching is heavily on the increase; the number of park wardens and other poaching combating approaches will also need to increase requiring even more money.
My concern that the media has far too much power becomes clear when we all believe what we are told to believe…